“But how does it work, Professor?”
I write today about a technical point of science-fiction writing; the Exposition. The beautiful blonde asks the Professor how the machine works, and he launches into a long exposition full of technobabble. This has two flaws; it commits the writer to invent pseudoscience, and it’s boring. The first is an offense against science, the second an offense against fiction.
I propose a superior method. It goes as follows:
The beautiful blonde bats her long eyelashes and asks the Professor how the machine works. He struts and preens and starts technobabbling; but our hero is bored because he knows 1) all that stuff already, 2) that the Professor is trying to get into her pants, and 3) that he will not succeed. So our hero politely excuses himself and leaves the room; then he goes to service the machine itself.
It badly needs maintenance; the rectilinear reciprocator is askew, the turboencabulator need regaussing, the helbertian is underpolynomic, and worst of all the flux capacitor is de-retrinitized. He storms back to the Professor (who halts his exposition) and demands to know where to find another flux capacitor; the Professor says where, the blonde asks what a flux capacitor is, the Professor explains that it’s a kind of AC battery, the blonde, astonished, says, “you mean it stores an alternating current?”, the Professor says, “Yes, my dear, you see, the electroweak resonance of the aludium fozdex modules...” and our hero goes to the storeroom. He repairs the machine, cursing entropy and bureaucratic inefficiency all the while. They send us off on a mission in a machine like this?! Scandalous! They might as well throw us straight into the Sun and be done with it!
Our hero finishes his work; the machine works, sort of, probably; and he returns to the Professor. The Professor has just finished the exposition; the blonde exclaims that now it all makes perfect sense; he then offers to explain it in further detail, this evening perhaps; but she says no, she’ll be busy.
As you can see, my method is satirical. I seek the absurd. In my method, the hero walks away from the explanation, and it occurs mostly offstage, with our hero hearing disconnected nonsense fragments.
This method blows off the fictional mechanics, the better to serve the mechanics of the fiction. It wastes none of the writer’s or the reader’s time on boring pseudoscience; it gives us interesting sexual play between the characters; it makes our hero out to be a hard-working ordinary joe; and best of all, it foreshadows lots of interesting ways for the machine to break.
Besides, didn’t you always tune out during the exposition? So why shouldn’t our hero?
Note the easter eggs; rectilinear reciprocator, turboencabulator, flux capacitor, de-retrinitization. (The last from some Soviet SF.) And aludium fozdex is the Shaving Cream Atom, from “Duck Dodgers in the 24+1/2th Century.” My method can use the entire history of skiffy BS as raw material. For instance; adeledicnandar, Illudium PU-36, Jarnell intersplit, Altruizine, Pyre-E, positronics, stroon, space-3. And of course the old standbys; hyperspace, warp drive, force fields. And of course more modern buzzwords; nanotech, metamaterials.
I got “Helbertian” from a typo on an Analog magazine mailing label. They thought that’s my last name. F&SF once thought my name is “Helleretti”. I figure that a helbertian is a quantum wave operator; and the helleretti are a tribe of mischievous sprites.
I would dearly love to quote from Sokal’s hoax. Imagine a starship running on a morphogenetic field; and the Professor tells the blonde:
“In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between the observer and the observed; the pi of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally decentered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a spacetime point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone.”
Po-mo space flight!